These four* posts have been a pain to write, because they touch on too big a topic. I can't really give these the attention they deserve, but I wanted to offer something. I'm sure someone will catch me with an inprecision or infelicity of expression, and those who are so caught up in the political situation will decide these posts are responsible for the impending downfall of civilization.
But, I'll plunge in nonetheless...
Lots of Catholics, including a lot surfing and chatting on the Internet, are getting into intense discussions of how to apply our Catholic Faith, and the moral absolutes that are part of it and flow from it, to the choices we make as voters, particularly this year.
I will warn you now--this post (or series of posts) will bother some of you, because I will address bigger questions—which is why it keeps getting unwieldy—and what I won’t do is make it easy by uttering variations on the simple platitudes some favor:
"No Catholic can vote for ____"
"Catholics are morally bound to vote for ____"
Sorry, it’s not that simple.
It’s also wrong to suggest, as some do, that all issues that have a moral dimension are somehow equivalent. This can be convenient, when the candidate one wants to vote for is problematic on a particular issue—like abortion. "Yeah, but what about the (Iraq) war?"
Well, we can argue about the morality of the war. Yes, the pope did disagree with Bush’s case for the Iraq War. But two things to note. First, the pope would say that there is some room for difference of opinion on the war, precisely because Just War teaching holds that "the competent authority" has to make certain decisions, and that means the competent authority has some leeway. Some. But that some makes a huge difference.
For that matter, sometimes war can be justified—the Church does not, for example, have a "Just Abortion" teaching, but she does have a "Just War" teaching.
(For those who want to know, I was against Bush’s decision to go to war, and preached about the subject when the decision was being made. But once in, in my judgment the question changes to how justly to prosecute and conclude the war. I do not consider simply leaving to be a very moral decision, and to the extent so many taking the "anti war" position keep advocating that, they lose the moral high ground on the war, in my opinion.)
Well, in my first draft of this, I wrote lots of fancy verbiage about the life issues, but the bottom line is that abortion is always wrong, period. Likewise all assaults on innocent human life, such as "research" that destroys embryonic human beings and euthanasia. Cloning is also always and everywhere evil, no exceptions.
The death penalty, however, is more like the question of the war. The Church has not condemned the death penalty as intrinsically evil, but rather has said the circumstances in which it can be justified are few, fewer all the time. And the Church’s argument against the death penalty in recent years has been more along the lines of, we would be better off without it—it doesn’t help us cherish life.
What government says and does regarding marriage is also non-negotiable. (This is the subtle point many miss; the Church is only getting involved in the public-policy issue here because that's where advocates of so-called "gay marriage" have taken their cause. When people sought to have their clergy give religious sanction to a same-sex union, the Church's response was limited to the theological.)
Then we have questions related to housing, health care, environment, the economy and so forth. All these have moral dimensions, no question. In each case, as Catholics, we are bound to apply Catholic teaching in these areas. But here the role of prudence is huge.
Example: the Church teaches workers have a right to a "just wage"—but she does not specify the means to attain that. Two Catholics can, in good conscience, disagree over how to do it—but not whether workers should have "just wages."
Now, if I had more time, I could give you an exhaustive examination of the subject, but I don’t have time. These are the main hot-button issues, quibble if you like about what I failed to say or say strongly enough.
* er, five as of 3:10 pm...